According to Merriam Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary,
e˙pis˙te˙mol˙o˙gy /iˌpistəˈmäləjē/ (Greek episteme knowledge + ology) 1. n. The theory of science of the method and grounds of knowledge, especially with reference to its limits and validity.
on˙tol˙o˙gy /änˈtäləjē/ (Greek onta the things which exist + ology) n. 1. The science of being or reality; the branch of knowledge that investigates the nature, essential properties, and relations of being.
More simply, ontology is the study of reality, while epistemology is the study of how we know reality.
If there’s one thing they wanted us to remember from Impact 360, it was the difference between epistemology and ontology. People flippantly throw around words such Love in phrases including everything from, “I love ice-cream” to “I love my wife.” Our culture assumes a difference relative to the context in which it was used. But who decides? What does Love, or anything for that matter, really mean? Isn’t it all relative? Can we really know anything, really? Epistemology and ontology bring clarity to the situation.
In one sense, yes, Truth is relative. That is to say, we understand things based on its “relation” to another thing. For example, I am a blonde. Now, I have come to understand and identify with this, like most people, based on my experience and being able to differential the shade of my hair with others so as to come to that conclusion. This does not mean that Truth is dependent on another thing for its Trueness. Take Love for example. Love exists, and we can understand and identify it relative to things that it is not, but that does not mean that it is dependent on those other things for its existence. Another way to look at it would be to abolish the idea that we live in a dualistic world, where there’s an opposite to everything and everything is dependent on balance, like Eastern, yin-yang mysticism. Balance is important in life, and at times necessary, but that is not what reality hinges on. Going back to the example of Love, Love is not dependent on its opposite, selfishness, for its existence or for us to understand it. Love is dependent of selfishness. Love is.
This is epistemology. This is how we learn things, at least one way, in which we gain knowledge about Truth, that which corresponds to reality. By relating one thing to another, we can understand things. Ontology is the actual Truth of the matter. We may come to a conclusion based on sound reasoning by relating one thing to another (epistemology), but that does not mean our conclusion is true or correctly corresponds to reality (ontology). We must be able to understand and recognize this difference of how we know things and what is actually true so that we can responsibly make decisions and live a truly flourishing life.